Friday, March 24, 2006

Return of "The Birds"

After a complete change with the winter crew, we seabird biologists have returned to the Farallones for another season. PRBO has been studying seabirds here for over 35 years. Our research focuses on using information from the birds, like how well they reproduce and what they eat, to learn about changes in the ocean environment.

When you step on the island at this time of year - it becomes quickly apparent that it's a "gull's world". The island supports the world's largest breeding colony of Western Gulls, almost 20,000 strong. These are the birds from the Hitchcock movie"The Birds"! Or at least their descendants - the film was shot in Bodega where some Farallon gulls spend their winter. Right now gulls are reconnecting with mates and fighting for breeding territories. As you can see in this recent video - life isn't easy for a gull on the Farallones. Every year I return to the island I am more amazed by the resilience and pure toughness of the gulls. From our banding studies we know that Western Gulls can live more than 30 years! So I sing the gulls' praises - but wait a few months when they are dive bombing us nonstop - maybe I'll change my tune...

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Risso's Dolphins

We finally had a nice calm day here, so I went up to the light for some whale-watching. In 2.5 hours, I saw 1 gray whale and a huge herd of ~200 Risso's Dolphins. It was amazing to watch as the Grampus surfed down the faces of the huge ocean swells that are running today. Tomorrow, if the seas calm down, the seabird biologists will take over the island. Winter season is over, and I'm going back to the mainland, but the work here goes on with a new focus on the seabirds that breed here. Elephant seal season is over, but we had a great year. The population grew again this year, with big jumps in numbers for Pastel Cave Highlands and Marine terrace harems. Reproductive success (number of weaners per cow) was about average, and altogether we had 132 weaners. Another year of elephant seal data added to the long-term ecological dataset for the Farallones that adds to our understanding of this amazing, constantly changing, incredibly productive portion of the world ocean.